How to Deal with Separation Anxiety and Going Back to School

It’s the beginning of August, and that means it’s back to school time! Whether your child is excited about school or has some anxiety around going back to school, we’re here to talk about how to help your child with separation anxiety as they get back into the routine of things this August.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety refers to excessive fears or worries about separation from home or an attachment figure. It’s normal for a child to experience this type of anxiety early on in their life. But as they develop, the child should be learning healthy ways to interpret their relationships (especially with their parents), and with their surroundings.

If a child does not develop these normal boundaries around the age of two or three, you might want to take a closer to see if they might experiencing some sort of anxiety.

What does separation anxiety look like at a young age?

There are many different ways that separation anxiety might manifest itself in a young child. The child might cling to their parent, and not want to be very far away from their parent. They might cry or throw a tantrum when the parent leaves the room or tries to drop them off for school.

Fear of being alone, fear of their attachment figure being gone too long, or worrying about something potentially happening to them are all thoughts a child might have.  They might have nightmares or episodes of panic. This type of anxiety can also present in physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, or nausea.

It’s normal for your child to have some anxiety about going back to school.

Going back to school for a child often presents a major change in routine and environment. This can be distressing to a child at any age. If your child is young they might be experiencing separation anxiety because they will be away from their primary attachment figure.

If they are older, they might be experiencing worries of making new friends or getting lost on the way to class. All of these fears are valid for a person going back to school. Trying to coax the reasons of why the child is feeling this way, are not necessarily the best course of action.

Dr. Melissa Estavillo says giving your child love and support is important during this change.

In our latest Youtube video, Dr. Estavillo talks about how pushing them in an overconfident way might actually increase some separation anxiety. Her solution is to show your kids a lot of love. Create a warm and comfortable atmosphere where you and your children can connect before they head back to school.

And Erin Leonard, PhD from Psychology Today agrees stating, ’empathetic listening and reassurance are the requirements in raising an unanxious child.’ When you are creating a loving environment, it lets your children know you support them and believe in them. It also gives them space to process their emotions and feelings about going back to school and being separated from you.

What are some practical tips to help my child?

Dr. Estavillo also gives us a few hands-on practical tips in our latest Youtube video.

  1. Write handwritten notes and put them in your child’s backpack or lunch with encouraging and loving messages.
  2. Giving “kisses in their hands”, and letting them know if they feel nervous or anxious they can take their hands and place them on their cheeks letting them know they have their parents kisses and love with them all day.
  3. Giving them a locket they can wear around their neck or wrist with a picture of someone they love. They can open the locket when they’re feeling sad and know they are loved and supported.
  4. Having them wear a ‘good luck’ item of clothing that they can feel special in.

Going back to school is an adjustment for the entire family. Having the knowledge to help your child through this sometimes difficult time, is important for a smooth transition from summer break to back to school!